Making the Bullet Journal Work for Me

My first introduction to the Bullet Journal system of personal organization was in a Lifehacker article in the fall of 2016. I was completely snowed under with teaching that semester. (Four college classes on four days a week with on top of a heavy committee load.) Seeing a way to disconnect from e-mail and get my tasks in order seemed like a dream come true. I tried the system, but it did not do what I wanted it to. However, after a few attempts, I found a system that seems to meet my needs.

Bullet journals have been popular for a while. The aim of the system is to be efficient without being too automated. Here is a video by Ryder Carroll, the inventor of the system.

(Not surprisingly, he is more than happy to sell you a notebook.)

When I tried to use a bullet journal, I ran into some snags that made it impractical. While trying to manage my time at work, I started to notice how much Microsoft Outlook it integrated into everyone’s workflow. Keeping two systems was impractical. In addition, I had too much information to fit into a notebook small enough to carry everywhere. In addition to my work and personal schedule, I had to keep track of my two kids. When I did carry my journal around, I felt conspicuous. I was afraid that I would be accused of shoplifting if I carried it into a store. After a few weeks, I abandoned the bullet journal.

After some reflection, I came to a realization that rekindled my interest in the bullet journal: there is no reason to use just one notebook. The main feature of the bullet journal that makes it impractical is including the daily log with the other sections. To get around this, I started using 3″ x 5″ spiral notebook for the daily log and never looked back.

Items from Outlook and our family calendar can be seamlessly funneled through the daily log notebook, so the problem with multiple storage systems disappeared. Once the daily log became smaller, the other sections could become larger. My main journal is a three subject, college ruled notebook. It contains my future log for 2018, and notes and next actions for various projects. The journal can stay in my office, briefcase, or car and I still have access to the immediate information required to get through the day. As long as I migrate my daily log every day, the main journal stays up to date.

In addition to the main notebook, there is the option to integrate the daily log with different paper notbooks, Outlook, or OneNote. (Again, my college uses Microsoft Office, but Evernote or Google Keep would work just as well.) I have experimented with this, and I feel I can do more with this in the future. The possibility of a digital archive of my notes and tasks is intriguing. Having all my eggs in a water-absorbent basket seems like a bad idea.

The genius of the Bullet Journal system is that there are many correct way to implement it. Some people like to make theirs an Instagram-worthy work of art.

Others want a quick and efficient system to get things done.

For me, the bullet journal is a reliable system for personal management. With some past and future adaptations, I find the system more useful each day.

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